Written by: Beaston Lane
Frigid rain falls through the canopy of a Scandinavian forest as the clearing fog reveals two opposing armies, each with unbreakable faith after paying tribute to their gods. A natural ambiance thicker than fortress walls separates the warriors as they each anticipate their leader’s call to charge. What I’m describing isn’t necessarily the beginning of a medieval battle, rather the vivid atmosphere that introduces Vampire’s mighty third record, Rex. This feeling of anticipation builds during the interlude entitled “Prelusion,” and at its sudden conclusion, the armies charge as the carnage of Rex is unleashed upon us all.
Rooted in mythology, Rex is a hellish journey through chaos and serenity. Juxtaposing high-octane thrashers and sneering mid-tempo odysseys, the album showcases the band’s versatility and highlights the demonic vocals of Hand of Doom, the lead vocalist. Existing at the intersection of classic thrash metal, melodic death metal, and modern black metal, Vampire is a three-headed monster which utilizes these influences to create an engrossing and unique listening experience. While not every song can boast of being truly memorable, Rex is a bold statement from a young band destined to continue their ascension through the metal ranks.
Ushering in the extreme onslaught of the album is the title track, which has established itself as one of my favorite songs of 2020. “Rex” is enthralling, with neighing horses and frantic guitars unleashing a mosh-inducing four minute battle cry. While Hand of Doom screams “Hail to the Warrior King!” Abysmal Condor’s relentless drumwork drives frantic guitar melodies into the eye of a maelstrom. Just as fast as the title track storms in, it disappears with a few emphatic chords, introducing “Inspiritus,” an old-school thrasher that sounds like the son of 1983 Metallica and Possessed. From a fairly straightforward hook riff, the song slowly transitions to a monolithic bridge section which wraps things up in epic fashion. To conclude the first section, “Wiru-Akka” blazes in like “Rex” part two, and ends up remaining that way for the majority of the track. It’s no bad song by any stretch, but “Wiru-Akka” is lucky to have a deliciously contorted solo section and a well-executed gothic bridge to distance itself from its brother.
Just when the intensity of the first three tracks starts to become redundant, “Pandemoni” gallops into town with some unexpected synths and (somewhat) mid-tempo drum beats. This represents a clear shift in the mood of the album, as “Pandemoni” and its successor, “Moloch,” have abundant breathing room and allow the guitars to do more heavy lifting. These dynamic punishers occasionally wander into meandering territory, but the strong instrumental work coupled with Hand of Doom’s uniquely demonic growls is hard to deny. ⠀
Although some people couldn’t care less about the way which an album is ordered, it’s clear that Vampire takes great care in piecing together a tracklisting; like chapters in a book, each song serves a unique purpose in moving the record’s sound forward. A quick skullcrusher called “Rekviem” jumps into the mix as the epic sprawl of “Moloch” dissipates, and while the song itself isn’t as memorable as “Rex” or “Inspiritus,” it’s still an aptly positioned track which injects new life into the runtime.
This burst of momentum leads to “Serafim,” an unexpected yet wholly fulfilling mid-tempo churner. Running like an old sage of yore recounting the horrors of his past to a passerby to haunting black metal, the third single is simultaneously spine-chilling and groovy. Everything from the vocal delivery to the tremolo-picked gothic riffs works here, comprising an unlikely earworm that will leave you dying to know who this “Kadesh” is.
If you thought “Moloch” was airy and grandiloquent, the eerie hum of the six minute “Anima” will give you a new perspective. While the band’s screams of song’s title veer a bit too close to “Enema!”, the song is a well-constructed slab of Tribulation-esque grandeur. By the end, you’ll be hoping for a raging closer--luckily, lead single “Melek-Taus” certainly delivers. Opening with a NWOBHM lead passage, this track morphs into a hammering seance, practically possessing you as headbang uncontrollably. However, an album closer wouldn’t be an album closer without a dramatic ending; for “Melek-Taus,” this flourish arrives in the form of a glorious guitar harmony fading into a serene acoustic outro.
There’s a consistent sonic atmosphere that helps the album achieve coherence even though it’s not an overtly conceptual record, and it can be heard in the absence of the low-end on the guitars and a decidedly raw drum sound. Catering to those who will be forever married to extreme metal’s early glory days, the old-fashioned production will immediately catch the ear of oldheads, but it may also be a turn off for those who love the heaviness of modern production. That aside, the performances of the band on this record are excellent; clearly, Vampire is more interested in crafting gems than randomly showing off their skills, and that mature approach is evident at every turn.
As I said before, Vampire is well on their way to extreme metal notoriety, and Rex will undoubtedly be considered a jewel of their discography by future fans. Every song is able to capitalize on the band’s occult dynamic and honed sound. If you like various types of throwback extreme metal and thrash/NWOBHM, you have to check Rex out; it has been popping up in a few album of the year conversations here and there, and from the subdued opening of “Prelusion” to the climax of “Melek-Taus,” it’s easy to understand why.
Vampire - Rex was released June 19th, 2020, from Century Media Records
We provide thoughtful reviews of music that is heavy, gloomy...and loud enough to wake us from slumber. Written by a highfalutin peasantry!